For as long as humankind has kept record, Autumn has been something of a metaphor for life’s twilight. The harvest and hunting are completed, the task at hand has been to prepare for the long dark nights of Winter, also a metaphor.
Throughout our lives, we witness the passing of time and the passing of life. We witness change, at times embracing it, at other times deploring it. Sometimes we are victorious, and at other times we are vanquished.
In Autumn, we see the life of Spring and Summer fade; we know that death is inevitable and that it is part of the process of life. We seem to take greater pleasure in the days of Autumn if only because they reflect the glories of Spring and Summer, the seasons of renewed life and productive life. Silently, perhaps prayerfully, we dare to hope that our own lives, our own very personal Autumn will be as beautiful, as reflective of our own past glories.
On average, a victim of Alzheimer’s disease survives seven to eight years after first diagnosis. Naturally, this varies according to the frequency and quality of medical care. Those who do not or cannot avail themselves of regular medical examination may not survive as long after diagnosis; they will just be thought of as “that crazy old man/woman who wanders around jabbering,” and people will make every attempt to avoid them. They may be homeless, or they may just live alone. They may be penniless, or they may be wealthy. There will often be other health problems that conceal or, in our thoughts and wishes, explain the oddities that we see in the victim.
There is another side to Alzheimer’s: The disease claims almost as many lives from among the supporters and caregivers of victims as it does of the victims themselves. Depression often leads to suicide and stress erodes health, sometimes contributing to cardiovascular disease. It is similar to being a non-combatant casualty living in a war zone.
One might ask what my point is in presenting such a bleak picture. The answer is that I have been a spectator to this dance macabre. I have watched as one of the brightest, strongest, and most beloved of the people in my life has made this journey through the Long Dark Autumn. Unlike the presentations of Alzheimer’s that one sees on the Hallmark Channel or in broadcast advertisements for the medications commonly used to treat Alzheimer’s patients, life is neither a sunny walk through the Farmers’ Market nor the optimism of a family coming to grips with Mom or Dad forgetting what time it is. It is a process. It is a thief. It is relentless. It must be eliminated, and that is why I describe its realities, however briefly. YOU need to get involved before you or someone you are close with becomes its next victim.
Walk with those who take the Walk to End Alzheimer’s, learn all that you can about the disease before you are forced to know more about it than you wish. Visit a friend or family member who is stricken. Donate. Do anything, but don’t just sit reading these poor words and do nothing. If you have not yet been affected by Alzheimer’s, you are fortunate, but your luck will not hold. Sooner than later, someone you love or perhaps you, yourself, will be a victim. Get your head out of your ass; hoping that you are never visited by Alzheimer’s, pretending that there is nothing that one person can do alone, is just not an option.
We cannot eliminate Alzheimer’s disease in the next decade. It is likely that any future victims who are now adults, even young adults, cannot be saved from the disease, but there is research. There are some promising insights. If you and I and all of us fail to join the fight, we condemn even more to a dark Autumn instead of the bright, beautiful, golden-soft days of satisfaction and reflection that a life well-spent deserves.
These are the words of Ojijaak.